The romance of the FA Cup is still alive. Just ask AFC Totton and Redbridge FC.
There is no better cup competition in club football than the FA Cup, despite what the doubters say. Nowhere else in sport do we see amateurs and professionals stand toe-to-toe, for 90 minutes their footballing equals. After all, where else can painters, decorators and taxi drivers play on the same pitch as their professional counterparts?
The “romance of the FA Cup” still rings true, especially in the relatively early stages of the competition, before the entry of the top teams in the third round. The human interest stories that dominate the headlines are often fascinating, and resonate very strongly with amateur enthusiasts up and down the country, who regularly have to balance their work and family commitments with a desire to play football every Saturday afternoon.
This year’s second round was no different. AFC Totton of the Southern Premier League would only have dreamed about reaching this stage of the competition, particularly having started in the first qualifying round and having to win five games to get this far. For them to welcome Bristol Rovers of League Two, a side three divisions above them, would have been beyond anything they could have imagined in their opening game at home to Fleet Town on September 17th.
With their manager a delivery driver and their star striker a student at Portsmouth University, for them to have the chance to compete alongside professional footballers is something that would not be afforded to them in any other sport. While they are grateful for the guaranteed £72,000 that comes from television revenue thanks to the game being broadcast on ITV, this club in particular are an example of how the “romance of the Cup” is still alive and strong.
Take another example: Redbridge FC. They began their FA Cup campaign at home to Cockfoster’s in the preliminary qualifying round on September 3rd, and their manager is a taxi driver by trade. They may have been demolished 5-0 away by Crawley Town, but they exit the competition with their heads held high, having been the lowest-ranked side in the competition, and come face-to-face with the so-called “Manchester City of the Football League”.
Some have suggested that the FA Cup has lost its magic, due to the dominance of the Premier League and the Champions League in the English football media, and due to many clubs fielding weakened teams to avoid damage to their league campaigns. However, if you asked any of the amateur teams, they would absolutely say the FA Cup is still important, and often the highlight of their seasons.